JIS News

Current efforts by the government of Jamaica, aimed at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and treating Jamaicans affected by the disease were recently outlined at a one-day seminar in New York.
The meeting was organized by Jamaica Impact (JAMPACT), an advocacy and philanthropic group of young Jamaican professionals residing in the New York City area.
The forum, which was held at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, was addressed by the Chief Epidemiologist in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Peter Figueroa, as well as Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Professor Gordon Shirley. The seminar was moderated by Jamaican-born criminologist and political commentator, Dr. Basil Wilson, who is also the provost of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The discussions, which also focused on human rights issues relating to the delivery of healthcare services to at-risk groups in the island, also included Rebecca Schleifer, author of the recent controversial Human Rights Watch study which purported that an anti-gay bias in Jamaica had served to compromise efforts, in Jamaica, to successfully treat and prevent HIV/AIDS.
In his submission to the seminar, Dr. Figueroa acknowledged that Jamaicans suffering with HIV/AIDS still encountered significant challenges, as a result of the stigma related to the disease, but suggested that over the years Jamaicans, in general, had become more aware of the real risks as well as the myths relating to day-to-day interaction with those affected with HIV/AIDS.
Pointing to current successes in the government’s approach to dealing with HIV/AIDS, Dr. Figueroa informed that the implementation of a national HIV/STI Control and Prevention Programme was an “important milestone in Jamaica’s efforts to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS. Last year we put in place a national policy, spearheaded by the government, which has been very productive”.
He added that, “we have established a public access programme with a grant from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and we are tackling the issue of mother-to-child transmission as well”. Dr. Figueroa also noted that collaboration with the private sector had served to enhance current treatment programmes, including the government’s new public access programme, which had admitted an additional 750 persons at the end of 2004. “In addition, we have trained over 1,000 counsellors over the past two years so that throughout the island we now have counsellors available to assist those who are affected in most of our public facilities,” he said.
Outlining key priorities for the near-term, Dr. Figueroa stressed that an important area of emphasis would be “expanding HIV testing and counselling and encouraging all sexually active persons to get tested as an entry point for treatment as well as prevention.” He further informed that initiatives in the area of prevention would be in the forefront of the Ministry of Health’s overall campaign to thwart the spread of HIV, which leads to the onset of AIDS.
For those already infected, Dr. Figueroa noted that a primary objective would be “to provide even more expansive treatment options which would afford patients access” to effective treatment regimens. “We are now in a position to offer universal access to anti-retroviral treatment. We are moving on that,” he said. The Chief Epidemiologist also stressed that the Health Ministry remained committed to treating HIV/AIDS prevention as a key priority and noted that the Jamaican government would continue to appropriate the necessary resources to ensure that treatment and prevention programs received adequate levels of support.
For his part, Ambassador Shirley emphasized that the government would continue to take a comprehensive approach to dealing with HIV/AIDS and that this holistic strategy would continue to be supported by an already-implemented and sustained public education program, which was bearing fruit.
“The most recent impact study relating to overall knowledge, attitudes, practice and behaviour of the general population regarding HIV/AIDS was conducted in 2004. This study indicated that over 80 percent of the population reflected a high knowledge level about HIV/AIDS. Hence any characterization of the Jamaican public, in general, as being poorly informed, ignorant, and discriminatory in behaviour to those suffering from AIDS could not be further from the truth,” he stated.
“Jamaicans are clear that this disease is not the purview of a specific group and they are aware that the public needs to exercise care and vigilance in order to prevent new infections,” he further noted. Professor Shirley also observed that Jamaica was so advanced in its prevention programme that the Caribbean peer-to-peer exchange programme had opted to use approaches adopted by Jamaica as a point of reference for annual training. The Jamaican Ambassador also commended the country’s healthcare practitioners for their work in dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and described them as being “dedicated, hard-working and ethical in their conduct and demonstrating high levels of professionalism”.
He mentioned that remedial measures had been put in place to deal with instances where mistreatment or denial of health services to those affected had occurred. “In addition to the training and sensitisation of thousands of healthcare providers in the public sector, the private sector and NGOs, improved policy and legislative initiatives are already being considered by the government to ensure the reduction of stigma and that acts of discrimination are penalized,” he said.

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